As the days grow shorter, so the shortlists lengthen. Having just been presented with the Specsavers National Book Awards (see my incisive socio-critical deconstruction of same here), publishers, wholesalers, bookshops and booksellers throughout the country are frantically coming to grips with the Costa finalists. The two most obviously newsworthy aspects of the Costa are the inclusion of Bring up the Bodies (they should simply rename all the fiction prizes 'The Hilary' and save time) and that of a brace of illustrated prose (see this blog post and marvel at how on the pulse is my digital finger (can fingers be anything other than digital?)). I'm sorry - I think I've been hopelessly seduced by nested brackets. The graphic works, interestingly, are divided between the Novel and Biography division, with Days of the Bagnold Summer and Dotter of her Father's Eyes respectively waving the flag for books with pictures, the former from a major traditional publishing house, the latter from a respected independent comics publisher.
Which, preamblingly, brings me to the peak of the prize-giving season, The Bad Sex Award, which has excited most comment over two exclusions, namely J.K. Rowling (no, not for Hairy Porter) and EL James. The list of non-excludees, together with the appropriate extracts, can be found in the link. I applaud the aims and sentiments of this award:
"to draw attention to the crude and often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel – and to discourage it"
and have often found that perfectly reasonable novels are rendered unpalatable by such scenes, especially where a male author has created a female participant whose listed personal and physical attributes, along with the degree of unbearable ecstasy she is able to precipitate, smack of a rather grubby kind of wish-fulfilment rather than literary creation.
'But what' I hear you ask, with your typical perspicacity and intelligence, 'about the good sex?'. Perhaps bizarrely, one of my favourite descriptions of physical conjugation takes place within a graphic novel (can this get more intertwined?) and involves a human communing with a plant elemental in a kind of physical and mental union that allows them to share each other's consciousness and embrace the universe in a single vision. I speak of none other than a creature who has gurgled his way into these posts on a few previous occasions, the enigmatic Swamp Thing and his lover, Abby, who perform this union in volume 4 of the collected Saga of the Swamp Thing, by Alan Moore, when Abby (as you do) eats a particular plant that constitutes part of Swampie's physical form.
The writing in this scene, as is often the case with Moore, is high-flown and florid, but - taken in context - is entirely appropriate, and the passage is typical of the intelligence, wit and range of cultural and literary references that this writer brings to his work. The whole Saga is an incredible tour de force, embracing a dizzying range of subjects (vampires, misogyny, pollution, God and the afterlife, garden furniture), themes and perspectives, and makes the average Superbloke story seem like something scrawled in crayon by a very young child.
I'd love to hear your examples of good sex (fiction and poetry only, please).